By Martin K. N. Kollie
During her 10th State of the Nation Address on January 26, 2015, President Sirleaf was correct when she renamed corruption from public enemy number one to a vampire of development and obstruction of progress. Corruption is not only when one illegally converts public resources into his/her personal account, but it is when a group of public officials unpatriotically, unreasonably and astronomically increase their salaries and benefits in the midst of economic recession and extreme poverty/hardship. Such is the case with the Bicameral Legislature of Liberia – A Legislature of Indigenous Vampires unremorsefully and hurriedly sucking the blood of our economy!!
About two weeks ago, I authored and published an analytical article titled “The Liberian Legislature: An Unholy Political Theater of Unrepented Crooks”. This editorial was principally intended to reveal how Liberian Lawmakers became millionaires overnight in a poverty-stricken and low-income country like Liberia. The real facts in this publication remain precisely authentic and reliably cogent.
Even though there has been infertile effort(s) by some legislators, protégés of falsehood and crusaders of greed to blindly pierce the truth, but they have miserably failed to dilute those facts (statistics) that were publicly revealed. At least for once, Liberians now know how lawmakers have been bathing in opulence while extreme poverty and unemployment remain widespread.
Is it not true that the actual budget of the National Legislature for Fiscal Year 2015-2016 was US$54,027,021.00 while over 800 children in Liberia had to die as a result of unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation according to WaterAid? Is it not true that US9,595,701.00 was spent just on the Office of the Senate Pro Tempore alone in 2015-2016 while teenage pregnancy stood at 38% according to UNFPA?
Is it not true that the actual budget of the Office of the Speaker in 2015-2016 was US$1,061,625.00 while education was a mess across our nation? Is it not true that the actual expenditure of the Office of the Deputy Speaker was US1,402,414.00 while infant mortality rate was 65.8 deaths to 1,000 live births according to CIA World Factbook? Is it untrue that our struggling economy had to incur an expense of US$28,699,137.00 for the House of Representatives (offices of just 71 lawmakers excluding the Speaker and Deputy Speaker) and US$13,268,144.00 for the House of Senate (offices of 29 Senators excluding the Senate Pro Tempore) just in 2015-2016 Fiscal Year?
Aren’t these facts that remain unchallenged? Of course, they are!! When I said our poor nation and declining economy have spent over US$170 in a period of four (4) years on a Legislature that has ratified over US$8 billion bogus concession agreements in 4 years according to Moore Stephens May 2013 report, some of you doubted this reality. Now, let’s take a closer look at what this small country with a tiny national budget has actually lavished on the National Legislature between Fiscal Year 2013-2014 and 2016-2017:
2013-2014 – US$39,852,495.00
2014-2015 – US$41,251,016.00
2015-2016 – US$54,027,021.00
2016-2017 – US$47,282,492.00
Why must the Legislature alone bag over US$170 million just in a period of 4 years when 1.1 million people have no safe water and 3.7 million have no sanitation in Liberia according to WaterAid International? In all of these, where does the interest of the people lie? Even while Liberia’s economy is profusely bleeding as a result of poor fiscal decisions (fiscal indiscipline), unrealistic projections, corruption and other hard-hitting factors, the direct representatives of the people remain unbending in their parochial pursuit to enrich themselves at the detriment of the ordinary masses. The huge rush for wealth has become a visibly popular campaign in public service. The gross disregard for public interest is spreading like virus.
Now, let us advance some cogent analogy and analyses relative to this year’s national budget (FY2016-2017). I hope these provoking realities will make you to stand up and demand CHANGE. For instance, Liberia’s biggest referral hospital JFK receives US$5,318,784 while the National Legislature gets US$47,282,492 in a period of 12 months. The second biggest referral hospital in Liberia is Jackson F. Doe Hospital in Nimba County and this public facility also gets a scanty budget of US$2,966,095 per annual.
When our people are sick, they run to JFK and JFD Medical Centers that do not even have a dialysis machine and other advanced surgical equipment. The total budget of Liberia’s two biggest referral hospitals is just about 17.5% of the budget of the Legislature. Can you imagine? I would like for us to focus basically on education, health and security, which are paramount to public interest and well-being. Before going any further, it would be good for us to take a glance at what our poverty-stricken nation spends on the National Legislature alone in a period of 12 months.
The budget of the National Legislature for 2016-2017 Fiscal Year is US$47,282,492. In FY2014-2015, it was 41,251,016 while in FY2015-2016, it was 41,830,731 (Actual: US$54,027,021.00). This means that the budget of the National Legislature increased by US$5,451,761 this fiscal year while the budget of JFK medical center decreased by US$1,200,000. Where does the interest of the country and its people stand?
- NATIONAL LEGISLATURE (FY2016-2017)
- Recurrent Budget of the National Legislature – US$43,632,492
- Public Sector Investment Plan – US$3,650,000
- Total – US$ 47,282,492
Just take a look at the breakdown of the budget of the National Legislature
- Office of the Pro Tempore – US$1,369,423
- Office of the Speaker – US$1,000,370
- Office of the Deputy Speaker – US$930,132
- House of Representatives – US$30,250,240
- House of Senate – US$13,732,327
- Grand Total – US$47,282,492
The combined budget of the office(s) of the Pro Tempore, Speaker and Deputy Speaker is US$3,299,925. This means that the budget of these 3 offices far exceeds the budget of the second largest referral hospital in Liberia, Jackson F. Doe Referral Hospital (US$2,966,095). Isn’t this intriguing and mind-boggling? Isn’t this provoking?
Don’t focus on that too much before you suggest a revolution. I know these facts are provoking to every rational being, especially in a country where over 80% of the people are poor. However, follow me now as we compare the budget of the National Legislature with few public-driven institutions or entities. I am already suffering from excruciating headache as I attempt to advance these analyses. Anyway, let’s begin with Security.
- Liberia National Police – US$16,478,882
- Armed Forces of Liberia – US$11,814,572
- National Security Agency – US$8,693,504
- Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization – US$6,021,570
- Executive Protection Service – US$5,496,440
- National Fire Service – US$1,603,750
- Drug Enforcement Agency – US$1,845,518
- Palace of Correction – US$380,982
- Liberia Coast Guard – US$240,000
- National Commission on Small Arms – US$476,814
- John F. Kennedy Medical Center – US$5,318,784
- Jackson F. Doe Hospital – US$2,966,095
- Phebe Hospital and Nursing School – US$2,340,341
- Liberia Institute of Bio-Medical Research – US$509,518
- Liberia Board for Nursing and Midwifery – US$192,944
- Liberia Pharmacy Board – US$200,000
- Liberia Medical and Dental Council – US$400,000
- Liberia College of Physicians and Surgeons – US$1,900,000
- Liberia Medical Regulatory Authority – US$482,279
- National Aids Commission – US$939,859
- National Commission on Disabilities – US$470,976
- Environmental Protection Agency – US$2,322,682
- SD Cooper Hospital – US$50,000
- ELWA Hospital – US$150,000
- Ganta United Methodist Hospital – US$250,000
- St. Joseph Catholic Hospital – US$150,000
- University of Liberia – US$16,001,400
- Monrovia Consolidated School System – US$3,902,552
- Booker T. Washington Institute – US$2,951,603
- Cuttington University – US$1,083,880
- National Commission on Higher Education – US$1,191,225
- William V. S. Tubman University – US$6,004,520
- West African Examinations Council – US$1,600,000
- Agricultural and Industrial Training Bureau – US$424,056
- Zorzor Rural Teacher Training – US$740,250
- Webbo Rural Teacher Training – US$742,933
- Kakata Rural Teacher Training – US$1,381,972
- Bassa County Community College – US$830,000
- Bomi County Community College – US$649,207
- Nimba County Community College – US$830,000
- Lofa County Community College – US$830,000
- Bong County Technical College – US$980,000
- Grand Gedeh Community College – US$500,000
- Harbel College – US$575,000
- African Methodist Episcopal University – US$50,000
- St. Clement University College – US$50,000
- Stella Maris Polytechnic – US$40,000
- African Methodist Episcopal Zion University – US$50,000
What is even disappointing is that men and women who are making immense and invaluable sacrifices for our country cannot even afford their basic needs as a result of the low-income they are receiving coupled with the high cost of living. Just take a glance at what self-sacrificing men and women of our nation receive on a monthly basis:
- Public School Teacher – US$130
- Police Officer – US$157
- Nurse – US$150
- Immigration Officer – US$100
- AFL Soldier – US$180
- Medical Doctor –US$2000
- Circuit Court Judge – US$4500
In the midst of this glaring injustice, this is what the Senate Pro Tempore, Speaker and Deputy Speaker receive as special allowance(s) alone in a period of one (1) month:
- Senate Pro Tempore – US$30,166.00
- Speaker – US$23,775.25
- Deputy Speaker – US$20,388.08
This means that the annual intake of a public school teacher (US$1,560), a police officer (US$1,884), a nurse (US$1,800), an immigration officer (US$1,200) and an AFL personnel (US$2,160) combined cannot even be compared to the monthly special allowance (US$20,388.08) of the Deputy Speaker. Least to mention the Speaker (US$23,775.25) and the Senate Pro Tempore (US$20,388.08). The gap is too wide. This even contravenes Article 18 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia. No wonder why they (lawmakers) are refusing to be audited. I thought public managers must be able to account for public resources. Liberia is truly a victim of entrenched greed and unpatriotism.
Why are we spending US$22,943.00 on entertainment and gifts just for the office of the Senate Pro Tempore in 12 months when slum communities are increasing across our nation? Why are we spending US$4,500.00 on entertainment and gifts just for the Speaker’s office? Last fiscal year, we spent US$18,000.00 just on entertainment and gifts for the office of the Speaker when 1.1 million people in our country had no safe drinking water according to WaterAid? Last fiscal year (2015-2016), the office of the Deputy Speaker received a whopping US$15,000.00 just for entertainment and gifts. Must we be responsible to entertain lawmakers when youth unemployment is extremely high?
- In 2015/2016 fiscal year, just the special allowance of the Senate Pro Tempore was US$78,000. But it has increased this fiscal year (2016/2017) to US$362,000. Can you imagine? I leave this with you to do the calculation and derive the difference.
- In 2015/2016 fiscal year, the special allowance of the Speaker was US$72,000. But it has increased this fiscal year to US$285,303.
- In 2015/2016 fiscal year, the special allowance of the Deputy Speaker was US$60,000. But it has increased to US$244,057.
Greed is on the move. Patriotism has become a taboo. Accountability is forbidden. Corruption is a national priority. Integrity is outlawed. Poverty is an inheritance. While the masses of our people in Clara Town, West Point, Soniwen, Doe Community, Logan Town, Buzzy Quarter and other slum communities live among rats, roaches and mosquitoes, a handful of self-seeking characters continue to swim in opulence. They have become millionaires overnight. This can only happen in Liberia. We must break these barriers together in our generation. It is time to send a message to indigenous vampires on capitol hill.
Having outlined some basic facts, these are recommendations that could rescue Liberia from its socio-economic and political quagmire beyond 2017:
- Set-up a technical committee of fiscal and monetary experts to review and identify areas of wasteful spending within the National Budget of Liberia.
- Carryout a 30% cut in the salaries, allowances and benefits of high-ranking public officials in the Legislature, Executive and Judiciary Branches of Government. The recent proposal by some senators to institute a 25% cut is welcoming.
- Pass into law a bill to set reasonable ‘salary standards’ for all public servants including elected officials and political appointees.
- Establish by law an Independent National Authority on Salaries and Wages.
- Hold mass public hearing and awareness every fiscal year in each of the 73 districts before the passage of the annual budget.
- Ensure an annual audit of every government functionary including the National Legislature.
The Legislature has become so attractive in terms of incentives and benefits to an extent that almost everyone wants to be a lawmaker. Leadership is about service and not self-enrichment. We (The People) deserve far better than living in acute poverty for almost 170 years. 2017 offers all of us a unique opportunity to change our appalling story. It is about propelling new options, concrete ideas and genuine platforms for sustainable growth and development. Liberians have had enough.
Liberians need a NEW LIBERIA that seeks a concrete pro-poor agenda driven by a people-centered and patriotic National Legislature. It is time to embrace CHANGE. Let patriotism lead our thoughts and actions. We must leave behind a NEW LIBERIA of social justice and economic equality for our children to inherit. Let not their inheritance be POVERTY and MISERY. Are you ready for us to CHANGE Liberia together? Join the campaign for the reduction in the astronomical salaries and benefits of public officials!!
From the largest slum of West Point and the top of Ducor, I see a new Liberia rising above the African Continent.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth and student activist who hails from central Liberia specifically Bong County. He is currently a student of the University of Liberia studying Economics and a Lux-In-Tenebris Scholar. Martin is also the West Africa Bureau Chief / Editor of Globe Afrique, a Global Columnist of The African Exponent and a contributor to dozens of media outlets locally and internationally. He can be reached at email@example.com